Port officials reassure safety

In the wake of Monday’s fire aboard Royal Caribbean’s Bahama-bound Grandeur of the Seas cruise liner, officials with the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands have described emergency procedures for the George Town port. 

Joseph Woods, manager of cruise operations and security at the Port Authority, said planning for emergency incidents in the port had long been established with each cruise line, ship’s captain and the US Coast Guard.  

“We have never had any problems,” Mr. Woods said. “But we have done exercises with them. We meet with different lines and different ships at least once per year, talk through procedures with them. We also meet with cruise associations and, just a few months ago, attended exercises with the US Coast Guard in the Bahamas.” 

Mr. Woods’ comments came in the wake of last week’s third-deck fire aboard the 11-deck, 74,000-ton Grandeur of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, while en route to the Bahamas’ CocoCay. 

The ship was re-routed to Freeport, arriving at 10.15am on Tuesday. The US Coast Guard, summoned from their Lake Worth, Florida, base by the ship’s captain, classed the conflagration as a “Class A” fire, indicating solid combustible materials such as wood or plastic, but not involving fuel or flammable liquids. 

The fire was extinguished at 4.58am. All 2,200 guests and 796 crew were reported safe, with only minor medical complaints such as fainting, high blood pressure and an ankle sprain. 

Mr. Woods said authority plans, essentially, were “adapted to meet any situation. We work with the company and with the captain to help, providing support to the ship. 

“You can’t just throw water on it,” he explained, citing a shipboard fire. “They know their ship better than anyone and they tell us what they need. 

“They deal with the problem – and we give them whatever support they want. If they are fighting a fire, for example, and need additional water, if they need the fire department, we have fire tugs, a water cannon. 

“If there is a medical emergency, they will probably be taken off the ship and we will assist with that. No one goes on board,” Mr. Woods said. 

Roughly 525 passenger ships, carrying nearly 1.5 million passengers called on Grand Cayman in 2012. In the same period, 164 cargo ships made 486 port calls, unloading 217,379 tons of cargo. 

As of end-April 2013, 237 passenger ships brought 655,685 passengers to George Town, while 53 cargo ships made 141 port calls, unloading 68,592 tons of material. 

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines spokesmen declined to say on Wednesday if the Grandeur of the Seas fire would spur a fleet-wide study of the company’s 21 cruise ships or delay services to the Cayman Islands. 

Harrison Liu, a spokesman with the cruise line, said the company was reluctant to address any greater effects the fire might have on RCCL operations, saying “it would be imprudent to address other questions right now. We are focused on the immediate needs of our guests and staff. 

The company has already cancelled its Friday, 31 May, Grandeur sailing from its Baltimore, Maryland, base, allowing for repairs to the mooring area in the aft of the ship 

“Throughout, the ship’s power, propulsion and communications systems functioned uninterrupted,” said Cynthia Martinez, a cruise line spokeswoman. “In an abundance of caution, the captain deemed it necessary to muster all guests to their assembly stations during the incident. Guests have since been allowed to return to most staterooms and public areas.” 

In 2012, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines stopped at George Town 69 times. As of 30 May this year, the company had called at George Town 55 times. Most recently, the Freedom of the Seas, with 4,300 people, left Grand Cayman on Thursday afternoon. Grandeur of the Seas has never called at the local port. 

Launched in December 1996, Grandeur of the Seas received a $48 million facelift in May 2012. The ship is 916 feet long and 105.6 feet wide, with a cruising speed of 19 knots. 

The ship deported Baltimore on 24 May for a seven-night sailing to Port Canaveral, Florida, CocoCay and Nassau. 

The Grandeur fire is the latest in a series of international cruise ship accidents since early this year, starting with the partial sinking of Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia after it ran aground in Tuscany on 13 January with the loss of 32 lives. 

In February an engine fire aboard the 14-year-old Carnival Triumph left more than 4,000 passengers and crew stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for days. Without power, toilets couldn’t flush, chefs couldn’t cook and air conditioners stopped working. 

As an aside, while the ship was undergoing repairs in Mobile, Alabama,in April, strong winds yanked the it from its moorings, gashing its side. Days later several barges exploded on the Mobile River, forcing the evacuation of Carnival employees from both the ship and the shipyard. 

On 9 March, Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas said more than 100 passengers and crew, out of more than 2,000 aboard, had been diagnosed with the norovirus during an early-March, 11-day trip.  

In mid-March, the Carnival Dream encountered mechanical problems while docked in St. Maarten. Carnival sent the passengers home before the final leg of the trip after rumours surfaced of overflowing toilets. 

On 15 March, the Carnival Legend reported engine trouble, forcing it to skip a stop in Grand Cayman. 

Finally, on 11 April, the Crown Princess reported a blockage of the ship’s vacuum toilet system, which resulted in more than 400 rooms being without a toilet for more than 12 hours. 

Responding to the litany of disasters, Cruise Lines International Association last week announced a “passenger bill of rights”, guaranteeing, the “safety, comfort and care” of guests.  

Promises include refunds for trips that are cancelled due to mechanical failure, and a secondary power source on every ship, ensuring emergency systems continue to operate in the event of a main generator failure.  

According to The Associated Press, Christine Duffy, president and CEO of the association, which represents 25 major companies including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Holland America and Cunard, said the bill guarantees passengers minimum standards and protections while on a ship, including sanitary conditions, back-up power, medical care and refunds in the event of a power failure. 

Ms Duffy said the bill of rights would be effective immediately for US passengers purchasing their cruise in North America on the association’s North American member cruise lines. The bill has also been submitted to the International Maritime Organization global recognition  

The document gives passengers the right to disembark a docked ship if “essential provisions such as food, water, restroom facilities and access to medical care cannot adequately be provided on board,” subject to safety, security and local customs and immigration laws.  

In addition to a full refund for trips cancelled due to mechanical failure, the bill guarantees partial refunds for voyages that are terminated early due to those failures. 

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Cruise ships at anchor in George Town. – PHOTO: FILE
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